Lung cancer stages

When diagnosed with lung cancer, you will be told at what stage the cancer is.

Lung cancer stages outline how "bad" or "advanced" your disease is. They can help you and your care team evaluate what lung cancer treatments may help.

Our doctors use the TNM staging system to define lung cancer stages.

"T" indicates the size of a lung cancer tumor and if the tumor is just in the lung or if it has gone through the wall of the lung.
"N" indicates whether or not the lung cancer is in the lymph nodes.
"M" indicates whether the lung cancer has spread to other organs.

Numbers or letters appearing after T, N and M give more details about lung cancer stages.

  • "0" is the earliest stage of lung cancer.
  • Numbers increase in severity until four.
  • "4" is final stage lung cancer.

Final stage lung cancer

In general, early stage cancers have a better prognosis than late stage cancers. That is why early lung cancer detection is important.

In the final stages of lung cancer, the cancer can be any size. It may or may not be in nearby lymph nodes. The cancer has spread to other organs.

In final stage lung cancer, hospice and palliative care become central to a lung cancer treatment plan.

Reviewed By: Paula Colwell, RN, manager, Virginia Piper Cancer Institute Lung Cancer Program
First Published: 09/11/2009
Last Reviewed: 09/30/2009

Cancer research

Participating in a clinical trial may help you take a more active role in your health care. You may also gain access to new drugs, treatments and disease management practices.